Motivating people for project managers

Diagram of a :en:matrix organisation

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Outside of the area of direct sales and many would argue to include that too, there has been a momentous movement away from good old fashioned man management techniques. (please read Man to mean both genders, this is an old term well worth revisiting).

Some blame Matrix management, others blame the growing influence of HR for disenfranchising managers, I blame managers for simply being lazy and blind to the blatantly obvious. I also blame the prevalence of methodology and process as a substitute for management skills rather than a supporting platform.  Managers who used to read “the one minute manager” on the train are now reading “Idiot’s guide to the latest Microsoft gadget”

As we moved from a blue collar workforce to a white collar one, the importance of personal motivation as a factor in performance has become more and more important.

As project managers, we take responsibility for a very important part of the organisation’s future and in doing so we become the spearhead and leader of select group of people deemed sufficiently knowledgeable and capable to help us make it happen. More often than not, these are the future stars of the organisation. Our job as project managers is to lead them. To do this, we will need to demonstrate ability, skills and personal motivation and we will need to respect and understand the factors that motivate the people we are tasked with leading.

Since this is a blog rather than a book, a detailed discussion is outside of it’s scope, so I will leave you with one big idea to begin with.
“With the possible exception of your mother, nobody will ever do anything for you, they will do it for themselves. The key therefore to getting others to do what you want done is to understand what would make them want to do it.”

If you really believe that you can substitute the fear card for motivation you are simply delusional, even basic humping and carrying can’t be managed this way alone for any length of time and that outpuut is clearly and easily measurable, unlike intellectual products.

Abraham Maslow introduced his theory of human motivation in 1943

 Maslow Hierarchy of needsIn this simple, but profoundly valuable theory, he explained how human motivations are built on each other and how each individual is striving for the level directly above the one they are at. It’s a simple concept and sufficient to understand the basics and begin to probe and understand the motivational needs of your people.

If John has no home he is very unhappy, but as soon as he gets one, he starts to be motivated by making it secure for next year and thereafter. When John has no friends he is concerned about making some, but no sooner has he done that than he wants to be friends with people that will make him look better.

Getting to know people in informal ways reveals things about them and this informal knowledge builds up an instinctive feel for what will motivate them.

The first time I used Maslow to advantage, I was in charge of a sales-force with shrinking sales in the face of a gripping recession. It was a vicious circle, they were de-motivated by recession and hence their performance fell just when it needed to rise. I was told to make cuts and not given much time to do it in. I responded by increasing their salary and removing their bonuses for all but the highest performances.
That may sound contra to every instinct, but it worked incredibly well. When I took away the fear about meeting the spiralling mortgage, they were motivated again.  Just as Maslov had told me, they were not really that motivated by the size of the pay cheque, but I got more mileage out of a few certificates and trinkets and exculsive clubs for high performers.  It worked and it did me no harm either.

Project management is not just about fiddling with Gantts and looking for inspiration, it is about getting off your seat, getting to know people and helping them to help you through helping themselves.

 Further reading

If you found Maslow useful, you may want to do some searches on Hetzberg Motivation-Hygiene theory


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Project kickoff – don’t miss an opportunity

The project concept has outgrown it’s initial purpose to become pervasive in all areas of business and government.
This blog is relevant to all projects, but especially to those traditional ones that are created with a new team to deliver a specific project outcome such as a business change.

The challenges faced by Projects

The challenges faced by Projects are immense and not srprisingly, they represent the same issues that lead to the inception of the project as a model, namely:

  1. The shop must stay open while the improvements are made.  I.E. key people can’t desert their posts, so someone needs to come in to lead it.
  2. The project has to have the ability to make decisions and move forward independently if it’s not to grind to a halt..
  3. It must have its own clear structure of reports, responsibilities and consults, separate from the organisation.
  4. It must overcome the tricky and time consuming challenge of forming a new team and getting it up to peak production.
  5. It must coordinate and arbitrate different egos and personalities to work in a new structure.
    It must communicate effectively as an entity
  6. It must deal effectively with sometimes fraught corporate change environments
  7. In order to achieve even a pass mark in these seven key areas, it is vital that a project team is built and structured to support these functions and that the structure is strong, well designed and policed sufficiently until it is functioning efficiently.

If you are not in the habit of producing and agreeing a project structure document up front, then embracing this simple idea will move your project management performance up to a whole new level.
if you are able to go the next level you will not only end up with a sold structure that is sufficient and functional, you will make sure that the right roles are created, the right people are chosen for each role and the new team is quickly marched through the complex process of Forming, Norming, Storming and Reforming.

Project kick-off is almost indispensible

if you have been following my series on Project management, you will no doubt be aware that we place considerable importance on setting up the project correctly with the right structure and the right people. 
The last and very important lap in kicking off a high performance project is team building.

 When I started in this field in Ireland 20 years ago, we had a uniquely Celtic way of doing the job. we took everyone away for a working weekend in a great hotel, We did a two hour stint on Saturday and the rest, the important bit was drinking too much revealing too much about yourself, making friends and building relationships.  Today we hire coaches to set up special activities that are more politically correct and if they are good, they achieve the same things.

Get their attention

I am a great believer in taking the team off site for a few days. Left onsite people will continue to do the day job and they will not engage with your project or your team.
The people who want to remain aloof are the very ones you most need to keep focused and to do this you need to remove all their other toys long enough to get through to them.

Get them interested

A vectorized image of project dimensions.

Image via Wikipedia

The second thing you need t do is to demonstrate to them the business case for your project and have a business sponsor make it very clear to everyone just how important the project is to him/her. This last bit is so important I am almost tempted to repeat it. If you don’t get strong verbal and moral support from the business, you may as well throw your hat at it right now.
The third thing you need to do is to paint a little detail around the vision and make more real or concrete. To do this you need to find ways of demonstrating what wil be different when the project has been completed and how it will effect each of the stakeholders present and the organisation in general. This is ideally an expansion of the business case put forward earlier, but with more detail to fill in the how rather than just the why. Models, diagrams, prototypes and individual contributions form affected stakeholder are all effective tools for bringing the vision to life.

Get them involved

 Project Management Plan

The fourth thing you need to achieve is to make it personal for each member of the team. It is all too easy to play around with concepts and pass comments on them without ever considering them as reality. Like furniture ordered from the internet, It is only when the postman delivers it that you are forced to unpack it and start considering where it will sit i your life and how you will live with it. This is the time you want your people to consider these issues so that when you call on them to do their bit, they are able and willing to deliver.
A simple and effective technique to help with achieving this is to hold joint planning sessions with the entire team whereby they nominate the high level tasks, point out dependencies  and highlight the risks,  issues and assumptions.
It doesn’t matter if you already have a plan that you think is great, I would strongly recommend binning that plan and starting again because of the extra value you can get from this process.
Joint planning is the first time the team work together and it is the first demonstration of who knows what, who does what and where the tensions may exist.
After the first session you can visit individuals and discuss the issues if you feel that things need to change a little in order to keep the peace.
In addition to territorial issues, the process also forces people to consider these commitments alongside of their existing ones and to consider the amount of time and effort required of them and surface any conflicts early on.
The last element of joint planning, but by no means the least, is to discover the areas where the team members depend on each other for knowledge support or assistance of any kind and begin to break down the barriers and start off this process of team building.

Define some real actions

If you are to reap the true benefits of the work you have done so far, you simply MUST get positive proof of your success by way of actions accepted and completed by the team. These actions will deliver preliminary products of almost any nature, but what they will do is
a). They will set the scene for accepting and completing actions on time
b). The actions will be chosen to involve small groups and pairings that begin the process of forming partnerships within the team.

The outcomes of a project kick-off meeting

  • A strong sense of common purpose built on a clear shared vision and sound communication and sponsorship.
  • A well defined and understood project structure that has been explored and proved itself viable.
  • A clear vision of the work to be done the issues and risks and the critical success factors.
  • A high level plan that is commonly owned and understood along with risk, issue and assumptions logs.
  • Initial tasks completed and a team that are comfortable to work together towards the common goal
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Problem solving.

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

Image via Wikipedia

A central skill set around which many areas of a project are built is the concept of problem solving.
The initial outline business case that kicks things off properly is the first example of defining a problem and finding the best solution.  As things progress, the theme continues as the bigger problems I.E business problems are broken down into user problems giving rise to functional solutions and functional problems giving rise to technical solutions.
There are many other areas where the same techniques are used such as risk management and day to day management.

Here’s a simple proven technique for problem solving that can be adapted and applied all over the place and which you will perceive interwoven into virtually all project management methodologies.

1. State the problem.
This is your first shot at it. Often it simply means putting that gut feeling into words

2. Identify what success looks like.
If the problem were solved instantly for you, how would you know? What would be different? What it would feel like? What would you see, or hear?
Don’t be surprised if you change your mind about the problem at this point. Some grow more serious and others disappear altogether, but virtually all problems change their form once they are examined in a bright light.

3. Define the problem.

This is the problem you are going to solve. You can’t solve it until you define it so take great care with this.

4. List all potential resolutions.

Get help if necessary, but look laterally and seek anything that might solve your problem. Don’t forget to take into account things that might just happen tommorow that would solve it.

5. Filter the potential solutions down through elimination.
Ruthlessly eliminate those that are unacceptable or simply won’t work for you, or will cause other problems and hopefully you are left with one or two favourites.

6. Explore the potential impacts of each one.
Before you make a decision, check carefully that there are not unseen consequences of following your favourite solution

7.  Make a decision.

Make a gut feel decision instantly. There’s no point in delaying and there’s no scientific way of improving the odds at this point so JFDI.

8.  Make a decision.

Take action. Organise any administration needed and communicate the solution and instructions to everyone involved. Monitor it until it is resolved.

Practice this until it becomes a habit and you will be able to make good decisions on the fly as well as considered decisions.

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The five stages of an IT project

1. Enthusiasm for the goals
2. Disillusionment with the progress
3. Search for the guilty
4. Persecution of the innocent
5. Praise for the nonparticipants

Einsteins definition of madness was “someone who keeps doing the same thng and expecting a different outcome.”

Johari’s theory defines four aspects of knowledge and ignorance.

Knowing what you don’t know,

knowing what you know,

What you don’t know you know

What you dont know you don’t know.

The third is a terrible waste and the fourth will make a monkey of you every time.

Wise up and get some training, get a coach, or get someone else to do it.


Ed Taaffe






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Testing requirements is not optional

Part one – What would you like sir
Part two – Requirements,tests, training, help files
Part three – Why no project exists onin isolation-whwat should be done
Part four – Business rules, Process rules, Process, Data, different viewpoints
Part five – Testing requirements is not optional
Part six  -Requirements strategy can make or break your project

Yes you read it right. If you are one of those people who believes that testing begins when the supplier drops the system in your lap, then you have missed the point entirely. Testing starts when you build a business case and you test it to make sure that the solution is feasible and the figures are sound etc.
The next important test comes when the requirements are deemed to be complete.
Here’s the summary of a good requirements definition. Depending on the size of the project this could be one document or one per viewpoint. The thing that is important is that the right problems have been addressed and the problems have been identified and described clearly to the suppliers or developers in a way that makes it easy for them to get it right first time.

Business case — Tested via a Business case review, or Stage gate review.
User requirements – Tested via user and stakeholder review. (The problem)
Functional requirements – Describe the functionality that the system will provide in order to meet user requirements. (The solution)
Non Functional requirements – Describe all the constraints like speed of operation, reliability etc.
Data requirements – Describe in detail the inputs and outputs of the system and cover both the validation of human input and the specification of machine interfaces
Business Process – Describe the time phased rules that govern how the business goes about achieving it’s goal with the system. 

Business case review

Has the scope expanded, or the costs changed, or has the timeline been impacted in such a way to negatively impact the business case.
Has the level of complexity shed any doubt on the organisation’s ability to deliver.
Does the bsuiness case still stack up

Business process review

  • Do the processes join up to deliver a result
  • Does each process receive the required inputs
  • Do they handle all exceptions sufficiently
  • Are processes efficient
  • Will new processes deliver the expected benefits
  • Are the risks managed
  • Are the assumptions sound

User requirement review

  • The aim is to discover problems like ambiguous requirements, missing requirements, inconsistent requirements
  • Check against process models to ensure that nothing has been missed.
  • Check against the ten commandments

Functional requirement review

  • Traceability to user requirements
  • Design agnostic
  • Achievable
  • Complete

Non functional requirement review

  • Measurable
  • Explainable
  • Traceable to a business requirement

Data requirements review

  • Complete
  • Clear definition of types, mandatory fields, sizes,

Prioritisation of functional requirements

Armed with best guess estimates of time, cost, risk and benefits propritise them a number scale ar a scale like MoSCoW

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